At every stage in formal education, we are told we are being prepared for the next step. Elementary school prepares you for middle school, middle school for high school, high school for college, and college for the big time – the real world. Everything we are taught is meant to prepare us for the next big jump in our lives. I spent each step right along with all of my classmates getting ready for what would ultimately become our “real lives”. I finished elementary school. I finished middle school. After what seemed like forever, I graduated from high school. Then I took the natural next step and went to spend the next four years of my life in college where I double majored and earned two degrees before I graduated in May 2015. I did it. High school diploma? Check. College degree(s)? Check. I am officially higher educated. Sooooo now what?
It’s been a year and a half since my college graduation and I have had four different jobs, all of which I hated and none of which had anything to do with the four years and thousands of dollars I spent on my college education. So now, at 23 years old, I am a nanny making $12 per hour and I have to wonder…is this the “big time” I spent 17 years in school preparing for? Is this what all of my hard work amounts to?
Now I have heard all of the anecdotes, read all of the celebrity memoirs saying that they weren’t anywhere near their goals at my age. And I have to hope that those anecdotes will someday be ones that I can tell my own children. However, we live in a world that is increasingly difficult to be a twenty-something in.
As we grew up, we were told the only way we would ever get a “real” job is to get a college degree. Without one, we would never go anywhere in our lives, right? Well, here I am with two degrees and the same kind of job I had at fourteen years old. That college degree was supposed to be my golden ticket. It was supposed to open up the doors to my future. Every job that I apply to, even ones I don’t really want, is labeled entry level so naturally I think, “Great! That’s me! I’m entry level!” But upon further investigation, these jobs almost always require three years experience minimum. Oh. So not entry level? Because that’s definitely not me. I end up applying to all the same jobs people with only high school educations are applying to.
My sister, who is a year younger than me, opted not to go to college. She didn’t think it was worth it. More and more often I find myself wondering if she made the better choice. She has a job she loves making good money with plenty of opportunity for upward movement and just recently bought a house. She seems to be excelling at this twenty-something gig we’re stuck with. I always worried about her lack of a college degree for her future, but now I’m thinking maybe she had the right idea after all.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved my college experience. I made the best friends I will ever have. I learned to live on my own (and loved every second). I learned how to hold my liquor and how to enjoy a friday or saturday night no matter what I was doing as long as I had my best friends with me.
I learned more about real life from the college experience and the people I spent it with than I ever did in my actual college classes. In that respect, college is an irreplaceable, priceless expense. But that isn’t the reason we are so pressured to get that degree.
In terms of my classes, sure I learned stuff but at the end of all of the papers, late night study sessions, and trash cans filled with k-cup pods, I got a very expensive piece of paper and a handshake from my university president. I didn’t get the guaranteed job everyone told me I would get. I still eat mac and cheese on a regular basis. I am now a poor college student without the excuse of actually being in college.
Most of the time, I am very grateful for the years I spent getting a higher education. Some days though, I wonder if I would be closer to my dreams had I chosen not to go. I get the question a lot about whether or not I feel like I am better off with a college education and honestly, I don’t have an answer. I loved college very much but now I’m $50,000 in debt and barely getting by financially. So if you ask me and I don’t give you the answer you were looking for, ask again tomorrow. Chances are my anwer will have changed.